Members of the Brevard County, Fla., Board of County Commissioners heard a secular invocation on Jan. 26 for what is believed to be the first time.
The invocation was led by David Williamson, a director and co-founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community. Williamson’s invocation was noteworthy because the board had previously denied him and other nontheists the opportunity to offer secular invocations to open its meetings, sparking a nearly five-year-long legal battle. That lawsuit ended a year ago when commissioners agreed not to discriminate against people who don’t belong to mainstream, monotheistic religions in their selection process for invocation speakers.
Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida and the Freedom From Religion Foundation sued on behalf of Williamson and other individuals and groups. A federal appeals court struck down Brevard County’s invocation policy in 2019, and the case was settled a few months later. The settlement opened the door for Williamson to offer a secular invocation.
“As we begin the day in service alongside one another, we remember the solemn responsibility we have to our shared community,” Williamson said during the invocation. “With that in mind, we remember all those who live in or visit the community and who will be affected by decisions made here today – possibly for generations to come. Whether visiting the Space Coast for just a day as a visitor to a local beach or business or for an entire career of public service, while we are sometimes participants in it, we are always benefactors of our democracy and the important work of bodies such as this.”
Added Williamson, “Knowing that our words, our decisions, and our actions directly impact so many others, we strive to make compassion the foundation for our important work here today and that we serve with integrity and kindness towards one another and to all those you serve as our representatives in local government.”
Alex J. Luchenitser, associate vice president and associate legal di- rector of Americans United and lead counsel in the case, remarked in a media statement, “David set a high standard that we hope is emulated by future invocation speakers, in Brevard County and throughout America: He offered words of encouragement by focusing on the shared values that unite our communities. Elected officials across the country should follow the wise example Brevard County has now set by ensuring that no one is denied an opportunity to solemnize governmental meetings because of their beliefs about religion.”